“Beneath their meticulous, smart, aphoristic surfaces, Isles investigates the collisions between mystery and meaning without allowing either to be asborbed by the other. He's also a marvelous linguistic flirt.”—Chase Twichell, editor, Ausable Press
“Ark sails over the kingdom of water, negotiating the sirens and the jaded sea, the erased footprints and the burials, the dark ‘unlit rooms of waves . . .’ A stranded man, mutineer, explorer. A Noah of the covenant, an Odysseus, an evangelist of fish, a lover of the new world. John Isles gives us, through these various captains, the log of a brilliant voyage: as the delicate relationship between the human and the natural world tips and dives and threatens to capsize. With all the doubt and uncertainty of Keats, he has made a stunningly beautiful new poetry out of ‘mostly water,’tacking in and sailing away.”—D. A. Powell
John Isles's Ark is about the people and events that pass through a life, leaving a void; about finding a presence in that absence and waking up to the realities of the present moment. It is concerned, at its watery heart, with discovery and confrontation, uncovering and witnessing, whether it be the new world, “the world behind every blouse,” or the tender mysteries that can only be seen through the eyes of belief: that which “starts the wild grasses trembling.”
With its deft maneuvers through both a historical and an emotional landscape, Ark speaks to us with a truly contemporary voice of authoritative vulnerability while never faltering into sentimental digressions. This uncanny authority at the helm of our ark continually surprises us, unfolding its lyrical gems and treasures culled along the journey, letting us in on the inscrutable facts of this life.
Isles began building his Ark out of a single desire to confront the deaths of loved ones. The book begins in a troubled present moment, with the speaker portrayed as an island, distant from other humans and from the events of history. The second section inhabits a half-historical, half-mythic landscape that exists in a deluge of time and where the characters, ranging from Caliban and Prospero to Hiawatha and others, are all used to “shore against my ruins.” The void the dead leave behind now becomes a presence in the lives of the living. The final section of the book is an attempt to return to reality, to build an ark of language, to become more involved with a complex, living world.
From “As One with Foot in Mouth”
As stray air brushing bare boards.
As light bending over a pair of shoes,
as musty coat holding the sole remains
of human shape.
As flood, as as . . .
profusion of darkness, red and yellow dahlias,
a chest of drawers, all furniture confounded.
All gathering together.